UC Irvine had lost its first six conference games the first time it met San Jose State this year. The Anteaters won easily and ran off three more victories with the residual momentum. They came into Thursday night's game having suffered three embarrassing defeats in a row, losing by 25, 27 and 16 points.
But relief was on the way.
San Jose State made 18% of its first-half shots and had scored only 14 points by halftime as Irvine rolled up a 79-49 victory in front of 2,398 in the Bren Center. The Anteaters (9-12 and 5-9 in conference) led by as many as 39 and the walk-ons played the last five minutes.
Just how bad was it for the Spartans, who dropped to 1-20 and 0-13 in the Big West?
* Irvine's bench scored 49 points. The starters, who needed to tally just a free throw for a victory, added 30.
* With Irvine holding onto a San Francisco 49er-type Super-Bowl lead (49-17) early in the second half, Spartan forward Marmet Williams' layup attempt spun around the rim and dropped off. An Anteater fan screamed, "Ooohh, you guys almost scored again!"
* The Spartans weren't throwing up bricks, those were cement blocks. They weren't missing by inches, they were missing by feet. You won't see as many one-foot two-footers, wide lefts, wide rights and airballs in a church-league game. The sixth-grader in the halftime shooting contest had to use a baseball throw to get the ball to the hoop from the three-point line . . . but at least he hit the rim.
* San Jose State scored a third of its points in the last five minutes against an Irvine lineup that included four players who had combined to play 22 minutes all year and don't even need a change purse to hold their scholarship funds.
* Anteater center Dan Augulis came into the game with nine minutes left in the first half, played more minutes than he had all season and matched his season scoring output with six points. And backup point guard Zuri Williams had a career-high 18 points, which was 50% of his previous season total.
"I was embarrassed by our effort and terribly disappointed by it," Spartan Coach Stan Morrison said. "We've been a poor shooting team all season and it was more evident tonight than any night all season.
"We couldn't find anyone who could do anything. Our guard play was soft and our interior play was nonexistent. But Irvine played super. They were outstanding defensively. I was really impressed with their zone."
Irvine's half-court press, 1-3-1 match-up and 2-3 zones deserve some of the credit for the Spartans' ineptitude.
"We were very active tonight," Irvine Coach Rod Baker said. "We had a hand in their shooting problems. I was especially happy with the way we came back in the second half and maintained our intensity.
"If we hadn't played just as hard in the second half as we did in the first, it would've been a step backward instead of a step forward."
The Spartans have been retreating all season, but the Anteaters were still motivated.
"That team is good enough to win a game and we didn't want it to be us," said senior forward Khalid Channell, who came off the bench to make six of 12 shots, grab seven rebounds and finish with 14 points. "We were determined it wouldn't happen tonight."
San Jose's Brad Quintet hit a three-pointer to give the Spartans a 10-9 lead with 14 minutes 59 seconds left in the first half, but they didn't make another field goal until Jahi Bacon hit a short baseline jumper with 1:37 remaining. The Anteaters outscored San Jose, 25-2, during the 13 1/2-minute drought and pretty soon the bench-warmers were actually sweating.
"We've been on the other end of it so many times that I had no trouble appreciating it," said smiling senior Mark Odsather. "It was nice to look up at the scoreboard and see a big lead for a change. And then not blow it."